Animated television has changed dramatically since I began writing, I'm happy to say for the better...
Two amazing things happened to me in 1977.
First, I saw Star Wars. As soon as I saw that enormous Imperial Star Destroyer glide into shot from above the big screen I knew I was going to LOVE the movie! When I came out of the theater I felt like I was walking three feet off the pavement. Wow! I couldn't help thinking that this film was going to make a billion dollars. I underestimated.
The second thing that happened in 1977 was that my dad, Norman Maurer, who was story-editing Super Friends at Hanna-Barbera, sold his Robonic Stooges series. This was to change my life forever.
I was my dad's assistant story editor on Super Friends. So by his going off to run the Robonic Stooges series I was promoted to story editor on Super Friends.
I went on to write a slew of episodes for the series that season, as well as edit the remaining scripts. The show was a huge hit for ABC, leading to an unprecedented pickup for the next season consisting of 32 half hours!
With the previous season under my belt, and feeling cocky about the success of the series, I decided to write all 32 half-hour scripts. This was Challenge of the Super Friends (available at Amazon in two DVDs).
The series was another big hit for ABC which gave my career a huge boost.
But honestly, by today’s standards the writing was awful!
Animation writing has changed enormously since the 1970s. I'm happy to say, for the better. When I go back and re-read my old Super Friends scripts I cringe. The action was overwritten. Every angle and shot was called out, making some scripts 50 pages long, twice as long as many of the scripts I write today. And the dialogue was clichéd, stilted and just plain bad.
Yet, for its day, it was considered great. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera loved it. Peter Roth, the Director of Children's Programs at ABC loved it. And the viewers loved it. And if you like older animated shows, even today it's sort of okay, in an odd, campy, "bad" sort of way.
It's fascinating how art changes over the years just as technology changes. For instance, here's a still frame from the Super Friends, circa 1977...
Talk about 2-D animation. This stuff was as flat and static as the paper it was Xeroxed on.
Now here's a frame from Star Wars Rebels, circa 2014...
Everything about it is better: the layout, the designs, the emotions.
When I write scripts today I call out almost no angles or shots. I just write description that tells the reader what he's seeing. I let the reader be the director and visualize the shots and cuts.
I write dialogue now for kid's action series that would probably work in live-action theatricals. Some of it, anyway. Even the goofy comedy stuff is much more sophisticated and funnier.
Here's an example of a page from the 1977 Super Friends script I wrote entitled "Invasion of the Hydronoids"...
Excuse me while I stop cringing.
A better title for this script would have been "Invasion of the Horrible Dialog Beast".
Now here's an example from the Shaktimaan episode "Ultimate Power" I wrote in 2012...
Holy mackerel! What a difference.
Animated feature writing has also drastically improved as evidenced by recent Oscar nominations for best screenplay by such films as UP!, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall-E.
The state of the writing art in animation is getting better and better. Countries like India and China are aware of this and are demanding better writers for their animated TV and features. Audiences expect better stories and gravitate toward productions with better writing. It's not expensive animation that makes a hit, it's a good story.
As each generation grows up, watching and absorbing a higher quality of art, the current quality level becomes the base from which the new generation of artists refine their technique and improve the state of the art.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
We've come a long way in a century, in animation and in writing. I can't imagine what we'll see a century from now. Perhaps I'll literally be walking three feet off the pavement when I see it.
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved
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